UN Chief ‘Deeply Concerned’ at North Korean Missile Launch Plans

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 2:50 am (UTC-5)
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “deep concern” at North Korea's plan to launch a satellite into orbit, and vowed to raise the issue at next week's nuclear security summit in Seoul.

Speaking Thursday in Malaysia, Mr. Ban said the missile launch threatens regional security and undermines recent advancements toward ending the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

North Korea says the satellite launch, set for mid-April, is for “peaceful scientific purposes.” But Mr. Ban said the launch would be a “clear violation” of a U.N. resolution prohibiting North Korea from using ballistic missile technology.

Last month, North Korea agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, and stop missile tests, while the U.S. agreed to send North Korea badly needed food aid.

Victor Cha, the former director of the National Security Council for Asian Affairs, told VOA that when Pyongyang agreed to suspend ballistic missile tests, that “clearly” included a moratorium on satellite launches.

“There really is no distinction between their (proposed) satellite launch and a ballistic missile test, since they use the same technology to get this vehicle into orbit. There really is no difference.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ban has vowed to bring up the issue at next week's high-profile nuclear security summit in Seoul. Pyongyang has warned that any resolution dealing with its nuclear program would be viewed as an “act of war.”

The U.S., Russia, South Korea, and Japan have all condemned the planned launch. But Cha says international pressure is unlikely to convince North Korea to reverse course, since the launch was announced as part of plans to celebrate the 100th birthday of the late leader Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state.

Earlier this week, Japan said it has the right to intercept the North Korean missile, if it becomes necessary to protect Japanese national security. Cha says North Korea's neighbors have every right to be concerned, because past endeavors by North Korea have resulted in failure, sending debris crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

“The danger with the so-called satellite launches is that, if they fail, they can drop pieces of the missile on stuff underneath the ascent path and that could be Japan. So I think the Japanese see this as a true national security risk, not because the North Koreans are aiming at Japan, but because we know nothing about the technology of this missile and whether it will be successful.”

Similar attempts by North Korea to launch satellites in 1998 and 2009 are widely regarded to have failed. But North Korea insists that it has successfully launched at least one satellite into orbit, where it remains today, broadcasting patriotic songs.

In a separate development, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his government is nearing a deal with the United States to expand the range of its ballistic missiles to counter the North Korean threat.

President Lee told reporters in comments published Thursday he believes a deal will be reached in the “near future” to extend the current 300-kilometer range, which was set by a 2001 agreement with the United States.